Do you know that unsolicited yet persistent voice in your head, the persuasive raconteur that, possibly with malice aforethought, asks you to plunge into a venture that will almost certainly be impractical, expensive or dangerous, and probably a potent combination of all three? Well, that's the voice that I have been listening to most of my life. It's the one that has driven me to take on an attempt of Mount Everest next year and the one that led me to co-found a home and school for orphaned children in Kenya.
The dialogue with that persistent voice is at times a little fractious - give me a break, already! - but the reality is I'm afraid of not listening to what it tells me. Ignoring it would mean turning off something I'm passionate about. I got a taste of what that would feel like when I was young. I won a highly competitive British Army scholarship at the age of 14. I hungered for the Army's sense of mission, and to be surrounded by those of a like mind.
A day before starting at the academy, I failed my medical exam. Devastating at the time, the experience of not being able to pursue my passion gave me a frightening glimpse of what it would mean to ignore my instinct. That closed door drove me to seek out progressively greater challenges and allowed me to overcome obstacles I might have otherwise perceived as insurmountable.
Here are a few lessons I've learned along the way:
1) Don't allow the day-to-day pressures of our contemporary lives to keep you from pursuing your passions. Be aware that there will never be a right time to strike out after your dreams, and that the longer you leave it, the harder it is to summon up the courage to make a bold move. Understand that very often, the hardest thing is starting. Plan, of course, but know that forward motion creates its own momentum.
2) If you're just starting to live your life by following that voice and your instincts, accept that sometimes, a path may take time to emerge.
At times, it's been deeply unsettling to me to see others making steady linear progress in their chosen careers, while I had no confidence that I was heading in the right direction. My life looks a lot better planned in retrospect, than it ever was in reality.
Instead I've had the comfort that I've been honest with myself about what I wanted from life, and that has brought fulfillment. It has allowed me to chart a course, set goals and chase them down. I have determined what is important to me and, by design, I have created a life that is my work, and found work that is my life.
3) I believe in dreaming big dreams. It is lofty ambition that forces you to assess your abilities and to improve -- drastically, maybe -- where needed. As I train for Everest and pull the expedition together, I feel calmer and more resilient than I did even a year ago when I'm under pressure physically and mentally. Ironically, this is because of some of the setbacks that the expedition has faced and conquered. They may turn out to have best prepared me to struggle and ultimately, I hope, succeed. In dealing with each hurdle, I have felt my resolve harden.
4) Start every project with two assumptions: what you do in life must help the world, and what you do must inspire and ignite your spirit. Passion, aligned with a sense of obligation to those you serve, will help you keep your head up when the going gets tough.
I'm passionate about climbing, sure, but after working in Kenya for the past seven years, I'm touched by the millions of Kenyans who battle every day with courage and creativity to follow their dreams. This Everest expedition seeks to inspire a global community to approach life with boldness and determination.
In the end, my message is simple: resist the pressure to be ordinary, and know that, whatever your Everest may be, it is achievable if approached with passion.